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Embodied

Victorian Literature and the Senses

2008
Author:

William A. Cohen

Embodied

Making sense of the body in Victorian literature

William A. Cohen considers the meaning of sensory encounters in works by writers including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rather than regarding the bodily exterior as the primary location in which identity categories—such as gender, sexuality, race, and disability—are expressed, he focuses on the interior experience of sensation, whereby these politics come to be felt.

Remarkable, rare, and full of elegant, ineluctable insights, Embodied is unfailingly smart. Readers across many disciplines will grasp how the Victorians advanced ahead of postmodern dicta as they forged materialist thought, even when they talked in terms of mind and soul. An exquisite study.

Kathryn Bond Stockton, University of Utah

What does it mean to be human? British writers in the Victorian period found a surprising answer to this question. What is human, they discovered, is nothing more or less than the human body itself. In literature of the period, as well as in scientific writing and journalism, the notion of an interior human essence came to be identified with the material existence of the body. The organs of sensory perception were understood as crucial routes of exchange between the interior and the external worlds.

Anatomizing Victorian ideas of the human, William A. Cohen considers the meaning of sensory encounters in works by writers including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rather than regarding the bodily exterior as the primary location in which identity categories—such as gender, sexuality, race, and disability—are expressed, he focuses on the interior experience of sensation, whereby these politics come to be felt.

In these elegant engagements with literary works, cultural history, and critical theory, Cohen advances a phenomenological approach to embodiment, proposing that we encounter the world not through our minds or souls but through our senses.

Embodied

William A. Cohen is professor of English at the University of Maryland. He is the author of Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction and coeditor (with Ryan Johnson) of Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life (Minnesota, 2005).

Embodied

Remarkable, rare, and full of elegant, ineluctable insights, Embodied is unfailingly smart. Readers across many disciplines will grasp how the Victorians advanced ahead of postmodern dicta as they forged materialist thought, even when they talked in terms of mind and soul. An exquisite study.

Kathryn Bond Stockton, University of Utah

Victorian literature has seldom been more unsettlingly physical than it is in William Cohen’s hands. A tour de force of cultural phenomenology, Cohen’s Embodied shakes up our sense of the Victorians and so refreshes our senses themselves.

Joseph Litvak, Tufts University

Cohen’s readings are both lucid and subtle and make a compelling case for the continuing interest both of the literature discussed and the theme of the body as a means of doing so.

The Times Higher Education

Cohen organizes a series of elegant, even brilliant, close readings of little-read texts.

SEL, Studies in English Literature

Every chapter of Embodied is beautifully, often gorgeously written.

Nineteenth-Century Literature

Cohen has made a startling contribution to our ideas about subjectivity in the Victorian period, and of what happens to our own when we read its works.

Nineteenth-Century Literature

Cohen’s book sheds an interesting light on a period that is generally characterized by antagonism, by the Arnoldian image of the ignorant armies clashing by night.

Dickens Quarterly

Every page of this book offers something of value to the reader- whether a new theoretical insight, a new reading of familiar text, a new historical observation, or simply the pleasure of Cohen’s splendid prose.

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